Its amazing what you don’t see.
OK, it is hard to see what is really there in this light:
But I must have passed this spot hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. On my bike, on foot, on the bus. I have taken photos near the spot. I have walked or cycled down each one of the three streets that join there. But I never saw it until after I had read that it was there on someone’s blog. And then it was obvious. You can’t miss it. Huge and shiny and in full sight no more than twenty metres from one of the busiest roads in London. Except I did miss it. Its been there for OVER TEN YEARS and I never even noticed it. Or if I did I’ve completely forgotten about it.
So can you see the tank?
Its in there….
There it is!
A genuine Russian T34 tank, slightly foxed:
And while I was there taking the photos someone came up to me and asked, in a strong Eastern European accent “Do you come from round here?” I said I lived not far away, and then he asked “Are you Russian?” I told him I wasn’t and he told me that Russians come to look at it. And then he said that he used to drive one like it. I asked him if he was Russian, and he said no, Polish, but when he did his military service he learned to drive a T34. I said he looked a bit young to have used one – he doesn’t look as if he is fifty years old – but he said that conscripts got to practice on them. The Russians and the professional soldiers used T72s. Apparently the conscripts weren’t allowed near them. Not even to touch the outside of them, security guards at all times.
Which is kind of an interesting thing to happen on a Sunday afternoon after church. So I thought I would blog about it.
I wonder whose house the gun is pointing at?
Since I wrote that I’ve looked at the pictures again and realised how well camouflaged it is. Its right next to a white gate with a car behind it, and the gate and car are much smaller than the tank, but much easier to see. All that shiny graffiti is actually good camouflage for this urban environment – which is basically the end of a traditional street, and right next to some post-industrial desolation now mostly morphed into a mixture of inappropriately suburban-style strip-mall shopping and wannabe posh flats cut off from the world by 3-metre-high brick walls that keep out the neighbours and let in the burglars.
When our TVs were full of pictures of British soldiers shooting or getting shot at in Northern Ireland we were used to seeing squaddies in full combat dress with fake leaves in their helmets squatting down behind some tiny privet hedge in a street that could easily have been one of the dingier districts of Croydon. The clothes seemed strange. In that environment the green and brown and khaki DPM must have stood out a mile. It shouts “I am a soldier” at anyone watching, just as much as a red jacket with piping and epaulettes used to. Maybe that’s why they did it that way. In Belfast in the 1980s I saw a policeman (I think, it was hard to tell) sitting in the turret of an armoured car with a big machine-gun at the entrance to a shopping street, wearing a black flak-jacket, and a shiny black helmet with visor down so you couldn’t see his face. More Darth Vader than Dixon of Dock Green. Maybe the army weren’t trying to hide or blend in but they were using their clothes to show who they were, to intimidate rather than blend in. Camouflage repurposed as livery. The old red coats turned green.
Perhaps there were other soldiers hanging about in T-shirts, jeans, and trainers – genuine urban camouflage. Come to think of it there almost certainly were.